Here is a story that demonstrates, once again, another failure to recognize the dangers of domestic violence. A 40-year-old man named Mario Chavez goes to jail after a heated domestic argument with his wife (Martha) that ended with him threatening their 6-year-old son with a knife. His family, with much reason to do so, got a protective order. Chavez was able to get out of jail by posting just $8,000. Two weeks after Chavez was freed, disregarding the protective order, he walked right into his family’s new home, and stabbed his wife to death as his two young sons watched television in the next room.
In the midst of this tragedy, a particularly significant question arises. Should Chavez, who was in the country illegally, have been able to post bail in the first place?
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could have kept Chavez off the street entirely, but Santa Clara County by policy is not permitted to share immigration information with ICE agents. If the ICE agents were allowed access to this information, they could have interviewed Chavez, which would have revealed that he was an illegal immigrant, and because of his violent offenses, might have been taken into federal custody to await deportation. This would have prevented him from killing Martha Casillas.
Although this situation may have been prevented if Mario was put through the deportation process, we must look closely at the issue at hand. Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith decided to release Mario Chavez starting on $2,000 bail, which was later increased to $8,000, the same amount a woman was charged for shoplifting at Kohl’s just a few months ago. You think it would be a little higher for a man who had been charged for kidnapping, a previous DUI, and threatening the life of a small child. If the judge had taken this case more seriously, Mario would have never been able to post bail and be free to kill. The solution isn’t to bring in the ICE, but rather change the way the court system deals with domestic violence cases. To say that this is an immigration issue is missing the bigger point – that a murder took place because bail was only $8,000.
And, let’s not forgot that over 98,000 people in California have been deported for minor offenses. Immigrants who have been arrested for simply selling street food without a permit have been subjected to deportation. Because of this, even victims of domestic violence are reluctant to call for help because they fear deportation!
One bill addresses this issue – the Trust Act, a bill presented by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. The Trust Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on October 5th , ensures that county jails are required to hold specific violent offenders for ICE agents – specific violent offenders like Mario Chavez. The Act also prevents police and jails from sharing immigration information with ICE for non-violent offenders, thereby building trust in the immigrant community.
Before we point our fingers at the immigrant community, let’s remember that it was the judge’s decision to let Mario Chavez out on a mere $8,000 bail for criminal threats, child endangerment and brandishing a weapon. County Supervisor Dave Cortese said it best, “It’s a cop out. If the DA wants to be tougher on felons, he should do that. But don’t deflect attention to undocumented people.” Whether it is an illegal immigrant or a U.S. citizen, a bail amount of this size at least says one thing: that our court systems, including judges, still require more training about domestic violence.
What do you think might prevent another tragedy like this one from happening again?